Fact or Myth: Can Practicing Yoga Make You Happier?

This is a FACT.

Feeling “happy” has everything to do with the chemical reactions in your body.

The practice of yoga stress relief combines deep breathing exercises, physical postures and stretching – warms the body and engenders feelings of peace.

Some yoga stress relief classes use soft lighting and music to create a relaxing environment, while others concentrate your attention on the rhythmic sound of your breath. There are many different types of yoga, from yoga stress relief therapy to challenging power yoga practices.

No matter the type, doctors recommend the mind-body connection achieved through yoga as one of the most effective and natural ways to treat stress and depression.

Yoga triggers the release of the essential hormone oxytocin, which floods your body with feelings of happiness and well-being.

Deep breathing, warmth, soft music, gentle lighting and other relaxing activities also encourage your body to release this “cuddle” hormone.

Benefits of the Hormone Oxytocin:

  • Relieves anxiety
  • Increases sexual intimacy
  • Encourages positive emotions
  • Reduces stress by regulating cortisol levels
  • Stimulates social interaction
  • Lowers blood pressure

Other Natural Methods of Releasing “Happy” Chemicals:

  • Massage
  • Petting your dog or cat
  • Socializing with friends
  • Dancing
  • Meditation
  • Positive thinking
  • Simple touch – hug more!

Yoga Fights Depression on a Chemical Level

The amino acid GABA, short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, is pivotal to your brain health and nervous system function.

Scientists now realize the level of this amino acid also determines how relaxed you are. Patients diagnosed with depression and other anxiety disorders typically test very low for GABA.

Practitioners of yoga stress relief therapy have higher levels of this compound in their bodies than people who participate in other relaxing forms of exercise do.

Walk all you want, but if you really want to tackle unsettling feelings it is far more effective to unroll your mat at your nearest yoga class. yoga stress relief

Boston University School of Medicine conducted a 12-week study in which healthy individuals walked or performed yoga for the same amount of time every week. Half of the subjects who did yoga were less anxious, felt more positive, and had higher GABA levels than the subjects who walked.

Researcher Chris Streeter, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at BUSM, hopes there will be further studies conducted to determine if yoga should be considered a valid treatment for other mental disorders. The results were published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2010.

Total Body Benefits of Yoga:

  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Posture
  • Balance
  • Breathing
  • Concentration
  • Energy
  • Reduces inflammation

Yoga Helps Reduce Stress Levels for Caregivers

Yoga has also been shown to lower the stress levels of those who care for patients stricken with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.

Doctors with the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior found that yoga is a great stress reliever, decreases anxiety and inflammation.

Dr. Helen Lavretsky, senior author and a professor of psychiatry at UCLA, explained, “We know that chronic stress places caregivers at a higher risk for developing depression. Caregivers are also twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress.”

Half of the subjects were told to sit quietly in a room for 12 minutes. The other half were given a yoga mantra and instructed to chant softly at the same time.

Lavretsky was enthusiastic about the results, “The goal was to determine if meditation might alter the activity of inflammatory and antiviral proteins. Our analysis showed a reduced activity of those proteins linked directly to increased inflammation.”

A Beginner’s Guide to Starting Yoga

Yoga has been a holistic practice for thousands of years and 11 million Americans currently attend a class regularly.

Yoga can be initially intimidating, so here are three easy tips to help get you started:

  1. Stay on Your Mat – In yoga terms this means not comparing yourself to others in the class. Don’t get sidetracked by the skill of others who have more than likely been practicing yoga for years. Instead, focus on what you are able to do (literally on your own yoga mat). Don’t push yourself. Be aware that each time you attend class you make progress.
  2. Set Your Intentions – Ask yourself what you want to get from each class. Whether it’s mental clarity, meditation, increased flexibility, or just an hour to focus on your needs.
  3. Increase Your Breath – The practice of meditative and deep breathing is the single most important factor in yoga. Don’t hold your breath –breathe deeply.

Look for a yoga stress relief class in your area and start releasing all those feel-good chemicals in your body…naturally.